Plastic Pollution Present on Easter Island’s Beaches
By Paula Alvarado, Treehuggers and the latest 5 Gyres Mission
“A peak of wind over 40 knots (a lot) rocked us out of the South Pacific and we finally reached Easter Island, the end point of our trip with the 5 Gyres project exploring plastic pollution in the ocean.
Our arrival to one of the world’s most isolated pieces of habitable land (2,000 miles from the nearest continent and 1,400 miles from the nearest habitable island) was not without glamour: our boat anchored in Anakena, the kind of white sand turquoise water beach that populates desktop wallpapers.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before we started to see the effects of ancient and current human impact in this amazing place.
The first thing to notice about Easter Island is that there are little to no native trees. The story is a known one among environmental groups, often used to talk about the devastating effects deforestation can have for human beings: once blessed with lush vegetation thanks to its mild climate and volcanic origins, Rapa Nui’s forest was cleared by the inhabitants of the island for fire and to build canoes and transportation for the giant Moai statues that populate the island. The destruction process was accelerated by rats, which chewed seeds preventing the regeneration of trees.
Without trees, the native birds that pollinated flowers and dispersed seeds died as well, and the locals had a hard time fishing without wood to make new canoes so they depleted offshore marine life.
Although some studies suggest that the natives were trying to adapt, develop sustainable practices and even to restore the soil fertility, going around the island proves they weren’t successful. The naked hills and grasslands are only interrupted by small areas covered with some fruit and eucalyptus trees that look alienated from the surrounding.
Hundreds of years after this process, another kind of destruction is taking place on Easter: this time, on the beaches.
A group of crew members along with 5 Gyres founders Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins explored some of the island beaches, only to find them full of plastic pollution.
5 Gyres’ Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen cleaning plastic pollution at the Ovahe beach
As mentioned in previous posts, beaches act as natural nets for the trash populating the oceans gyres, so the plastic that reaches sea is transported by currents and ends up in the sand.
“The End” was the chosen phrase for the sign we created at the beach with the trash we found: the end of our trip and hopefully the beginning of the end of careless consumption.”
Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern most point of the Polynesian triangle. A special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888, Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapanui people. It is a World Heritage Site (as determined by UNESCO)